Europeans assemble

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, April 5, 2017
West Liberty went worldwide during a visit by young European leaders Friday, March 31, in the Regional Learning and Cultural Center.

Organized by the Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities (CIVIC), more than a dozen advisors, parliament members, state secretaries, deputy directors and more visited.

They grilled community leaders about life in West Liberty, specifically, how the community operated on a day-to-day basis, including its schools and government.

“This community is incredible, its a bubble inside of all of Iowa,” said Ed Moreno on behalf of LULAC, Dream Catchers and other efforts in the community.

Moreno was joined by speakers Elementary Principal Dr. Nancy Gardner, Council Member Melody Russel and Police Chief Kary Kinmonth.

West Liberty was chosen as one of the first stops for the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program due to its well known diversity.

Moreno talked about the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and its work in West Liberty, which began in 2014.

That included a recent program for concerned citizens at St. Joseph’s Church, as well as organizing a showing of Beyond Borders at the New Strand Theater on Monday, April 24.

He also talked about more than 20 teacher volunteers that will be helping immigrants prepare for the Citizenship Exams every Thursday.

“We’re wearing lots of hats,” he said of community members, “We’re all cooperating to make this community really great.”

The European group was very diverse in itself. Visitors hailed from Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Montenegro, The Netherlands, Spain, Turkey and Ukraine.

They’re currently traveling across the United States to learn how we do things state-side, and to get an idea of our life beyond what the media may present to them.

They learned all about the Dual Language program from Principal Gardner in West Liberty, which enables students to be fully bilingual by the time they graduate.

Mayor ProTem Melody Russell covered the city, from its efforts to to be fully inclusive to how the local government operates with five council members and a mayor.

The leaders were very interested in who truly has the power in West Liberty.

“There’s enough checks and balances in place,” said Russell. “This is a small community so if you are going to volunteer on council you’re probably involved with other things to.”

Most of the visitors are involved with the higher levels of government in their respective countries. They seemed quite interested in how a small town deals with corruption.

“What is important is that we have enough eyes looking at the same thing twice,” said Russell. Though our local government isn’t perfect, it attempts to be fair.

Speaking of which, she talked about the city staff, which has three bilingual members to encourage community members to come into city hall.

In fact, the city has changed wording in the code to make it more inclusive. An example: changing “citizens” to “residents” to ensure everyone to know the code which includes all those who ‘reside’ within city limits.

“We want everyone who resides within West Liberty to feel free to come in and voice a concern with the city,” she said, “We are all part of a community here.”

The visitors were also interested in the rule of law and how race was dealt with in West Liberty. Enter Police Chief Kary Kinmonth, with 25 years of placing experience.

“It’s very important in our community, due to the dynamics in our community, to have officers that can interact with everybody,” he said.

When it comes to the issue of immigration:

“I do know this, our police department is not in the immigration business. We are not here to enforce immigration laws, we are here to represent all of our community.”

“I don’t care if your a resident, non resident, citizen, non citizen, we don’t want bad people in our community, he added, stating of the police department, “We have to be held accountable.”

The take-away from the meeting, West Liberty is a small diverse community whose members wear many hats and attempt to be inclusive.

While that certainly cannot always be true, there is at least an effort to do so by many of its citizens. I mean, even Mayberry wasn’t perfect, but at least they tried.
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